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Suspect Identified in Connection with Infamous Colonial Parkway Murders
Officials need the public's help in learning more about Alan Wlimer Sr., the man now suspected of killing three people in the 1980s, two of which were covered in Oxygen's Lovers' Lane Murders.
Officials have identified a suspect in three homicides around southeastern Virginia, two of which were among the haunting Colonial Parkway Murders.
On Monday, January 8, 2024, Virginia State Police and multiple law enforcement agencies announced a suspect in the 1987 double murder of David L. Knobling, 20, and Robin M. Edwards, 14, both of whom were shot to death near a wildlife refuge in Isle of Wight County. The Knobling-Edwards murders were believed to be part of a cluster of double murders between 1986 and 1989 called the “Colonial Parkway Murders,” as previously covered in the original four-part Oxygen series Lovers’ Lane Murders.
Officials say DNA helped them narrow in on suspect Alan W. Wilmer Sr., of Northern Neck, Virginia, not just for the Knobling-Edwards homicides but also for the 1989 rape and strangulation murder of 29-year-old Teresa “Teri” Lynn Spaw Howell.
Lt. Col. Tim Lyon, Director of the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, thanked the victims’ families for decades of patience and understanding.
“Only those who have suffered the loss of a child in this way can truly understand the depth of their sorrow and the frustration over not knowing who was responsible for taking their loved one’s life in such a violent and cruel way,” Lyon stated. “I do hope the identification of the killer brings some sense of closure and peace for them.”
Wilmer died in 2017, meaning he won’t face prosecution for the crimes.
Who Were David Knobling and Robin Edwards?
The relationship between Knobling and Edwards has never been clearly defined, but, as covered in Oxygen’s Lovers’ Lane Murders, the pair spent time on September 19, 1987, with Knobling’s younger brother and cousin. Later that evening, Edwards reportedly snuck out to meet Knobling, the latter of whom was an expectant father who worked for his father’s landscaping company in Hampton, Virginia.
Per the state police's release, Knobling’s pickup truck was abandoned in a parking lot at the Ragged Island Wildlife Management and Refuge Area, a marshland dotted with numerous creeks about 20 miles northeast of Norfolk, the following day. Three days later, Knobling and Edwards were found shot to death along a shoreline in the area.
Both were shot execution-style in the head, and Edwards was the victim of sexual assault.
The victims’ families released a joint statement after Virginia State Police, the FBI, and Hampton Police identified Alan Wilmer Sr. as a suspect.
“For 36 years, our families have lived in a vacuum of the unknown,” the statement read, in part. “We have lived with the fear of worrying that a person capable of deliberately killing Robin and David could attack and claim another victim. Now, we have a sense of relief and justice knowing that he can no longer victimize another.”
A Connection to the Colonial Parkway Murders
Between 1986 and 1989, the murders of four couples drove fear into the hearts of Virginians, cases that went unsolved for decades.
Although Alan Wilmer Sr. is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of David Knobling and Robin Edwards, he has not been named in connection with the six unsolved cases known as the Colonial Parkway Murders.
The four double homicides occurred along the 23-mile stretch linking several historic Virginia towns, including Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. The victims were young, white, and were either in a romantic relationship or possibly perceived to be in one by the unknown attacker, often theorized to be a lone serial killer.
It began on October 9, 1986, with the murders of former U.S. Naval Academy graduate Cathy Thomas, 27, and college student Rebecca Dowski, 21, both of whom were involved in a romantic relationship for several months.
The women were found dead inside Thomas’s 1980 Honda Civic after it had been pushed down an embankment off a Colonial Parkway pullout outside Williamsburg. Both victims were strangled and had their throats viciously slashed.
David Knobling and Robin Edwards’ deaths came one year later.
Then, on April 9, 1988, Christopher Newport University students Richard “Keith” Call, 20, and Cassandra Hailey, 19, went on a movie date and attended a party, though neither was ever seen again.
Call’s Toyota Celica was later found at a York River overlook — not far from where Thomas and Dowski were killed — with their clothes still inside vehicle. Dogs later traced their scent to the water, and though misadventure was theorized early in the investigation, law enforcement officials ultimately suspected foul play was involved.
“We promised our parents that we were not going to give up until we have this solved,” Call’s brother, Chris Call, said in an October 2023 interview with ABC Norfolk affiliate WVEC.
Neither Call nor Hailey have ever been found.
Lastly, Annamaria Phelps, 18, and her boyfriend’s older brother, Daniel Lauer, 21, shared a Virginia Beach home with Phelps’ boyfriend. On Sept. 5, 1989, the platonic pair headed back to Virginia Beach in Phelps’ 1972 Chevrolet Nova after collecting some of Lauer’s belongings from home.
The car was discovered at an I-64 rest stop in New Kent County, though on the opposite side from where they would have traveled. Over a month later, hunters found Phelps’ and Lauer’s decomposed bodies wrapped in blankets in a wooded area about one mile from the rest stop.
Though a cause of death could not be determined, Phelps and Lauer are believed to be victims of homicide.
Who Was Teresa “Teri” Spaw Howell?
Virginia State Police have not connected their suspect, Alan Wilmer Sr., to the six still-unsolved murders. However, they connected him to the 1989 murder of Teri Howell, who was never before publicly linked to the Colonial Parkway killings.
Per the statement from the families of victims David Knobling and Robin Edwards, they will “forever be linked” to Wilmer’s third alleged victim.
Howell was last seen July 1, 1989, at around 2:30 a.m. in the City of Hampton, Virginia, outside the now-defunct Zodiac Club on Mercury Boulevard, according to state police. Later, a little after 10:00 a.m., construction workers on Butler Farm Road followed a trail of woman’s clothing to Howell’s body near a wood line.
Little was released about her case between her time of death and the recent identification of Wilmer, though Howell’s family also released a statement, as posted by Hampton Police.
“While we are grateful for the closure that has been provided, nothing will bring Teri back,” the family stated. “The void left by her absence over the years is inexpressible.”
A Suspect in the Case and More Possible Victims
Genetic genealogy helped officials arrive at Wilmer as a suspect, and the Virginia Department of Forensic Science issued a “Certificate of Analysis” in 2023 to confirm Wilmer’s DNA matched the suspect’s DNA at the Knobling, Edwards, and Howell crime scenes. Commonwealth Attorneys from Isle of Wight County and the City of Hampton also expressed their belief that Wilmer was to blame.
Given the new information, FBI Norfolk Special Agent in Charge Brian Dugan hopes possible witnesses will come forward.
“As investigators look toward solving other crimes the suspect may have committed, we’re asking the public to come forward and share information about any encounters they may have had with him,” Dugan stated. “We recognize relationships and loyalties change over time as do people and their perspectives.”
Dugan continued, “There are occasions where people who may have had knowledge of an incident didn’t feel comfortable coming forward with that information in the past, but we want them to know it’s not too late for them to step forward.”
Wilmer had no felonious criminal history and lived in Northern Neck on the western shores of the Chesapeake Bay. During the 1980s and 1990s, he frequented the area on a small commercial fishing boat called the “Denni Wade,” often docking around Northern Neck and the counties of Gloucester and Middlesex. On top of fishing — and oyster and clam farming — Wilmer ran the Better Tree Service company and held membership in at least one regional hunt club around Middle Peninsula.
Described as a sandy-haired and blue-eyed muscular man, about 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 165 pounds, Wilmer drove several pickup trucks around the time in question, including a distinctive blue 1966 Dodge Fargo pickup with the Virginia license plate “EM-RAW.”
The suspect died at his Lancaster County, Virginia, home in December 2017. He was 63 years old.
Both his pickup truck and boat are pictured on Virginia State Police’s Facebook page.
Officials ask anyone who might have fished or hunted with Wilmer to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or the Virginia State Police at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tipsters can remain anonymous.
Learn more about the case on Lovers’ Lane Murders, now available to watch on Oxygen.